There are some newspaper stories which are at the same time amusing (because of the kicking-in of the classic comic mechanism of the humour which derives from some gross incongruity) and utterly appalling. Such was the Daily Telegraph story a day or two ago, headlined “Chinese publisher releases erotic fairytales by mistake”, with the explanatory standfirst: “A Chinese publisher has been forced to recall a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales after mistakenly translating an erotic Japanese version of the stories.”
“Red-faced executives at Beijing Mediatime, the publishing house,” the report continues, “said a mix up had occurred when they could not find the original German version of the book to translate, and had turned to a Japanese version instead. Around 150 copies of the book were sold in Hangzhou before complaints from customers led to the recall.”
The example given by the Telegraph was the story of Snow White, in which, as the reporter coyly put it, “she romps with the seven dwarves”. This rang a bell: many years ago, in the very early days of videotapes and of places you could go to hire them, I went into such a shop to ask if they had suitable tapes for children. “Oh no,” said the man, “we don’t do stuff like that. It’s all adult in here.” I was an Anglican clergyman at the time, and dressed in clericals. I was unaware then of the new meaning of the word “adult”. What about this one, I said, picking up a tape bearing the title “Snow White’s sister and the seven dwarves”. “No, no,” said the man; “that’s not for you, reverend.” I looked at the blurb on the tape and saw what he meant; then made a somewhat red-faced retreat.
What is the explanation for such stuff? What on earth gave some nasty Japanese writer the idea of actually sitting down to write erotic versions of stories intended for children? And what induced a publisher actually to put them on the market? Am I being naïf? Many fairy stories have their dark side, the point being that they confront children’s fears by giving them a happy ending after all the dark and frightening episodes, in gloomy forests and giants’ castles and other scary places; but this is dark in a quite different and surely destructive way.
The fact is that these stories exist to preserve children’s innocence, by giving them positive expectations without attempting to shield them by not taking their anxieties seriously. Such stories are intended for children: there is surely something utterly foul about the very idea of systematically rewriting them in an erotic version, thus either excluding the children for whom they were originally written, or else – do you suppose? – imaginatively including them in some horrible way. There is some kind of perversion at work here, but what is it? Is it a form of paedophilia? The point is that I don’t know: there are perversions of the human psyche on which one just can’t pronounce, because one can’t get inside them, one can’t get one’s head around them.
All I know is that human nature is a strange and problematic phenomenon. But then, I’m a Catholic – I was supposed to know that already. Why is it that I just can’t quite get used to it?